For Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, catching online sexual predators is a difficult, complex task.
In 1999, Deputy Jamie Watson, pretending to be a 13-year-old girl, spent more than two months chatting online with Timothy Farnum, then 45, a school bus driver from Albany, N.Y. Eventually Farnum asked for a meeting in person, according to police.
"I'd really like to get some information from him as to where he is and what he's doing," Watson says. "There's no really good way that I can ask that without sounding like a cop."
Farnum is what the experts call a "traveler," someone who will go across state - or country - lines to have sex with a child. Farnum allegedly wanted to travel from New York to Bedford, Va., to take the girl out of state.
He allegedly agreed to go almost 600 miles to pick up what he thought was a 13-year-old girl.
What was Farnum seeking? "Pretty much, if you can think of it or dream it up sexually, he wants to do it," Watson says, adding, "This is somebody that needs to be introduced into the judicial system."
On the day Farnum was expected to arrive, Bedford County cops were prepared to arrest him in a carefully planned stakeout. Everyone participating has a gun and a bulletproof vest. An arrest can be dangerous.
One undercover officer, Sarah, played the part of the "girl" with whom Farnum has been chatting. She tried to appear as young as possible. "[I] try to dress down as much as I can," she says. "Long johns, jogging pants, hiking boots. I also wear a baseball hat, try to keep it down over my eyes." She also donned a vest and carried pepper spray and a gun.
They set up a stakeout at a small park outside Bedford. Sarah moved into place, and the backup team awaited its target. A number of cars stopped, but no one stepped out to meet the decoy. As darkness fell, the Blue Ridge Thunder team realized that it had been stood up.
Four weeks later, Bedford Deputies Jamie Watson and Mike Harmony made a second try. Farnum sent a one-way airline ticket to the person he thought was a 13-year-old girl in Bedford, police say. The two deputies drove 11 hours through four states to Albany, where Farnum lived. Tey planned to arrest Farnum when he arrived to meet the flight.
Joined by members of the New York State Police, the Blue Ridge Thunder Task Force staked out the arrival gate. "His life will change today, just not the way that he planned," Watson says of Farnum.
When the flight arrived, so did Farnum. He was quickly surrounded and taken into custody. "It was great; everything finally, it all came together," recalls Harmony. "To see the guys, the way they maneuvered in on him, and the look on his face. It was just great."
Farnum was shocked to be arrested, Watson says: He had no idea that the young girl he came to pick up was in fact Officer Jamie Watson, standing a few feet away.
Police found a rose in his car. Farnum may have thought he was beginning a new romance. But he found himself under arrest. Farnum pleaded guilt to a felony attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor and is now serving a year in jail.
"We know that we're not even making a dent with what's out there," Watson says. "We're two guys in a small town in Virginia; we're doing our best."
Watson and Harmony say that there are thousands of adults looking to meet children on the Internet every day.
But they will continue to put themselves on the line, one potential predator at a time. "As long as Operation Blue Ridge Thunder is in effect, we're going to keep going after them," Harmony says. "We're going to keep trying to make these kids safe. That's our goal. That's our purpose."
Go back to Tracking Cyber-Predators to review how Operation Blue Ridge Thunder was started.
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